2023 Author: Eric Donovan | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 15:44
Its design, well, didn't exactly get the adrenaline pumping. But the Fiat 131 was fast in the seventies - and brings to mind Walter Röhrl and the Monte Carlo Rally.
By Heiko Haupt
There are automobiles that few people associate with the terms exotic or enthusiast vehicle. People like to rave about high-performance sports cars from the past or recall the tail fins of American road cruisers. Other vehicles, on the other hand, seem to be designed from the start in such a way that after a few years hardly anyone remembers them. A prime example of this is the Fiat 131 Mirafiori. Even after more than 30 years, it is mainly lovers who have him on the list of interesting classics. In the meantime, the overwhelming number of cars has already withdrawn from classic car status due to the slow rust death.
Advantages of well thought-out customization
It's hard to describe a Fiat 131. What did he look like? Quite angular - like dozens of other cars from the 1970s. What special features did he have? None, at most the double headlights on certain equipment variants, which with a little goodwill could be reminiscent of a BMW.
Even the copywriters struggled with the mid-range model released in 1974. While the superlatives found their way into advertisements and brochures at the time, the best way to get through to the 131 was to use formulations such as "The advantages of well thought-out customization". Even the longer descriptions were hardly able to pull potential buyers out of the sofa in order to immediately sign a contract with the dealer: “The measure for the development of the 131 Mirafiori is the person. With all his wishes to get the best out of modern traffic. " After intensive research, they found something that set the Fiat apart from the competition: "It offers the largest seat width in its class."
Rust with delay
All of this seems relatively little for a car that had no less task than inheriting the successful Fiat 124. After all, it won the title of “Car of the Year” in 1966, generated considerable sales figures and was even allowed to serve as the basis for a chic Spider. The 124 was even to prove to be so durable that the Russian Lada models, built in huge numbers on the Fiat 124 basis, still shape the streetscape in many countries today.
The 131 should now be able to do everything a little better than its successful predecessor. Basically it could too: it was more modern, the ride comfort was decent, there was enough space inside. So all in all, it wasn't really a bad car - just completely bland. At Fiat itself, however, they were hoping for a great career for the inconspicuous newcomer, so that the model name even gave him an exceptional position in the program. The 131 Mirafiori was the first Fiat to have both a number and a term as a feature. In addition, Mirafiori was a reference to the Fiat factory of the same name in Turin - so the name identified it as “the” Fiat par excellence.
Efforts were even made to eliminate a typical Fiat problem: In order for the 131 to shine longer than usual for the brand on the streets, the topic of rust prevention had been devoted comparatively intensively. The result was that the vehicles actually hardly suffered from corrosion in the first few years. After a while, however, the metal sheets made every effort to make up for the time lost until the final rust perforation.
A legend through Walter Röhrl
The technology, on the other hand, was quite durable and indestructible. This was also due to the fact that some components - such as the basic principle of the engines - could already prove themselves in the predecessor. The engine power also ensured that the driver could hardly succeed in pushing the materials to their limits by brisk driving. The basis was initially a 1.3-liter engine with 55 hp, there was also a 1.6-liter displacement with 75 hp.
That would actually say everything about the forgotten Fiat - if it weren't for the surprising sporting career that hardly anyone would have expected the boring from Turin. It all started in 1976 with the 131 Abarth model, which was powered by a 140 hp 2.0 liter engine. In view of the manageable number of trailers, this car could well be seen as a co-founder of the niche model genre. In fact, however, he paved the way for a career on the slopes of the world - especially in the field of rallies.
The sporting successes of the Fiat 131 and the German rally driver Walter Röhrl are inextricably linked. He drove for the first time in 1977 with the Fiat. In 1978 some successes could be recorded. The really big year for the Fiat-Röhrl combination, however, was 1980: at the beginning of the year, the German drove with the 131 a superior victory in the legendary Monte Carlo Rally. More victories and top placements followed. In the end, the pairing was world champion.
Yes, there was a station wagon
It almost goes without saying that they wanted to translate this success into sales figures. In 1981, the special Walter Röhrl model of the 131 Mirafiori was available from dealers. The two-door version of the faceless family carriage had been upgraded with roof and rear spoilers, among other things. There were also autograph stickers with the signature of the world champion.
At that time, however, the 131 was already in the final stages of its existence as a production model. In the meantime he had made several changes that should keep him up to date. The first facelift took place as early as 1978, the so-called Series III came in 1981, including lavish plastic bumpers. A diesel engine was added to the range at the end of the 1970s, there was the 131 Sport with 115 hp, a so-called Supermirafiori and also a station wagon called Panorama, which only the few former owners of such a vehicle can remember today.
While it caused a sensation on the rally track, the 131 was never able to build on the successes of its predecessor on the road. Even those who see one of the few surviving specimens today will hardly develop any particular feelings for the 131 Mirafiori in view of the design, which at best can be described as functional. Unless the car is next to a Fiat Regata - which took over in 1982 and achieved the impossible by easily outperforming the 131 in terms of boredom. (dpa)